13-year college student named one of America’s most eligible bachelors

Ben Plassard

Johnny Lechner has been an undergraduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater for 12 years. Even though he earns B’s and has more than 234 credits, Lechner likes life as a college student. PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY MICHELE ROEHRIG | SUMMER KENT S

Credit: Steve Schirra

      For students who are hesitant to experience graduation and “the real world,” Johnny Lechner has provided another alternative: Just stay in college.

Lechner, who will begin his 13th year of college at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater this fall, has gained celebrity status by turning college into a career.

The topic of several interviews nationwide, Lechner has appeared on “Late Night with David Letterman” and was recently named one of People magazine’s most eligible bachelors.

But Lechner, 29, said that though the recent attention surrounding his refusal to graduate has made him out to be a Van Wilder, Animal House type, nothing could be further from the truth.

“I’m not always out partying, getting drunk and doing keg stands,” Lechner said. “The academic side of school is fun, too, and that is one of the reasons why I am still here.”

Lechner swears he does not go drinking every night and does not go out chasing 18-year-old freshmen girls. For Lechner, college is about the experience and the friends he has made.

“The college years are the best years of your life, and I hate to look back and regret anything,” Lechner said.

Lechner said he has maintained a 2.9 while majoring in communications, education, theater and women’s studies, among others. He was set to graduate with a triple major and triple minor last year, but decided to stay on for a final 13th year.

“This 13th year is the last hurrah, and it has been an awesome 13 years,” Lechner said.

With increasing college tuition, Lechner has found various ways to pay for his classes. He is not on scholarship and receives no assistance from his parents, who helped him pay for his first two years.

Instead, Lechner supports himself by working as a waiter at Olive Garden and by selling his own music on his personal Web site. He also uses his “fan club” to his advantage by selling everything from hair to belly button lint on eBay as an additional source of income.

Lechner’s popularity prompted the state of Wisconsin to pass “the Johnny Lechner rule,” which states that students who exceed 165 credits pay extra tuition. Lechner had earned 234 credits by the end of this spring semester, placing his current tuition at more than $9,000.

Despite of his refusal to graduate, Lechner said he is not afraid of the real world, but is afraid of graduating and looking back and wishing he had one more year. He is not worried about his age being a factor in finding a job once he does graduate.

“I have learned so much about myself and the world, and it is not about what your degree is in or how fast you get out of college. It is about your personality and who you are,” Lechner said.

Not all students agree with Lechner’s view of life and his college career, however.

Junior nutrition major Caryn Kovach said being in college for 13 years is ridiculous. Kovach said Lechner is not making money, and he is wasting his time.

Others feel Lechner his doing the right thing by following his heart.

Senior history major Doug Schmidt supports Lechner.

“If that is his niche in life, then good for him,” Schmidt said. “There are people that do a lot less with their lives.”

Regardless of people may think, Lechner said he knows he is doing what he is supposed to do with his life. This summer he plans to study abroad in Europe, then come home for the final year to wrap up another major in social work. He wants to help at-risk teenagers and enjoys volunteer work at camps and within his community.

“There is a different path in life for everyone,” Lechner said. “I am following my heart and doing this on my own terms. You can’t put a price on happiness.”

Contact general assignment reporter Ben Plassard at [email protected].